How to use finger plays and action songs at preschool to build language, gross and fine motor skills, self regulation skills and to help manage classroom behaviour and transitions.

The rhymes in finger plays are simple and fun but did you realise just how many educational benefits there are doing finger plays with your children?

Using rhymes and songs are a fun way for children to learn language in early childhood. Add in movement in the form of finger plays and young children are hearing the rhythm of language, building large and fine motor skills whilst also learning the sounds in words making them one of the building blocks to reading success later.

Working at preschool, I'm always looking for new songs to do at circle or large group time - finger plays, action songs, that get everyone moving all at the same time because movement helps many children learn. It also helps get rid of those wriggles that set in when you sit there too long.

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How to Incorporate Finger Plays at Preschool and Why - the educational benefits to including finger plays in your pre-k program along with a collection of finger plays and action songs perfect for any early childhood classroom | you clever monkey


Many of us tend to use finger plays at preschool for classroom management and transitions. As educators working in the Early Years we know singing a familiar song is one of the easiest ways to gain a child's attention and bring everyone together to the mat for circle time.

Classic songs like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Wheels on the Bus! are engaging songs every child knows (or will by the end of preschool). They are songs that will have everyone's attention and joining in helping you start your circle time with everyone concentrating. 

It's a proven method for managing children during group time.

But finger plays should be used for more than just classroom management.


Finger plays are an effective way for children to learn language in a playful way. The use of rhyme and song help with the retention of vocabulary encouraging language development. 

They are particularly useful for children for whom English is their second language or children with speech and language delays.

The repetition nature of most finger plays and rhymes help children develop memorization skills in a supportive manner. They are learning that language has patterns which help later when learning to read and write independently.

Finger plays and rhymes should be a daily inclusion in any preschool program to encourage language development.



But finger plays are not just important for building oral language, they're also invaluable for developing both large and fine motor skills in young children.

Using finger plays helps children hone their fine motor co-ordination as they have to manipulate their fingers to mirror what their teacher is doing. At the same time, new brain pathways are being constructed as the child develops greater body awareness, finger isolation and discrimination skills. The same neural pathways help build a child's sequential memory skills due to the repetitious nature of finger plays.

Children also need to develop core body strength to be able to hold a pencil and sit at a desk to write when at school. We know that encouraging children to cross their midline is crucial to this development. Finger plays can help develop these large gross motor skills too.

Crossing the midline is any movement that involves a child's arms or legs crossing over the centre of their body from one side to the other. It's important because such movement involves the left and right side of the brain having to work together to co-ordinate such movement.

This is important when it comes to the development of skills such as reading and writing as the child's brain is trained making it easier for a child to move their hand and eyes across a page to read or write text. Research tells us that children who struggle with crossing their midline in their early years are often later to read.


Preschoolers are still learning self regulation skills. Self regulation is the ability to able to control one's impulses and emotions. It also involves a growing awareness of social skills and other people. 

Most preschoolers are still very egocentric so giving them tools that help them learn about their feelings and how to control them can be very important in early childhood settings. 

Songs and finger plays that change in tempo, that start slow then get faster and then slower again are a fun way to support very young children's development of self regulation skills as they have to listen and participate appropriately to match the speed of the song. The Wombat Wobble is one of my favourite songs for this.


Some of our favourite finger plays this year include:

Five Cheeky Monkeys - start with five fingers pointing towards the floor, swinging

Five cheeky monkeys swinging in the tree (move your hand)

Teasing Mr Crocodile 'You can't catch me' (put both hands up to the sides of your head and shake)
But along comes the crocodile quiet as can be.... (extend your arms in front of you to make the crocodile)
And SNAP! (close your hands quickly)

Mmm... (rub your tummy) Monkey for tea!
Repeat until all the monkeys are gone or the last one can survive 'You missed me, you missed me!'

One Little Finger - start with just one finger extended

One little finger, one little finger, one little finger, tap tap tap (tap your two fingers together)

Point to the ceiling, point to the floor, point to the window and point to the door.
And put them in your lap. Boing boing boing (alternate bumping your fists together)
Repeat until five fingers are extended then change the last verse to clap instead of tap.

Five Little Ducks - start with five fingers in one hand, mother duck with the other

Five little ducks went out one day (move your hand)

Over the hills and far away (move your hand across your body tracing the shape of the hills)
Mother Duck said 'Quack, quack, quack'
But only four little ducks came back 
Repeat until all the ducks are gone then send Mother Duck after them.

Other classics like Open, Shut Them, Roly Poly, Up Up Up, Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes, 1,2,3,4,5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive and Everybody Do This are still well used. Sometimes we take an older favourite and give it more local meaning like Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  I live on the River Murray in Australia so one version we do goes like this:

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the river.
If you see a giant yabbie,
Take him home for dinner.

And we've also introduced some newer songs like:

Five Umbrellas - hold up five fingers to start then put one down as each umbrella is taken. We also substitute children's names for Mum and Dad.

Five umbrellas, not one more

Dad took one then there were four.
Four umbrellas pretty as can be.
Sister took one, now there are three.
Three umbrellas, green, red and blue.
Mum took one, then there were two.
Two umbrellas that's all I see.
Brother took one and left one for me.

Dinosaur, Dinosaur - sung to Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around.

Dinosaur, dinosaur turn around.

Dinosaur, dinosaur stomp the ground.
Dinosaur, dinosaur show your claws.
Dinosaur, dinosaur snap your jaws.
Dinosaur, dinosaur turn around.
Dinosaur, dinosaur sit back down.

Sometimes - start seated

Sometimes I am tall (stand up)

Sometimes I am small (semi-crouch)
Sometimes I am very, very tall (stand on your toes)
Sometimes I am very, very small (crouch lower and duck your head)
Sometimes tall (stand up with your arms raised)
Sometimes small (crouch down)
Sometimes neither tall or small (stand normally)

Tiny Turtle - start with one hand sitting on top of the other with both thumbs pointing out like fins

I have this tiny turtle (move your thumbs to make it swim)

His name is Tiny Tim
I put him in the bathtub (dive into the bath then swim some more)
To see if he could swim.
He drank up all the water (pretend to drink some water)
And ate up all the soap. (pretend to eat some soap)
Now he has a bubble in the middle of his throat! (touch your throat)
Bubble, bubble, bubble... POP!

Most of these work as plays or as small world play prompts which allow children opportunity to retell the story with their friends building their early literacy skills. 

I also have this Pam Schiller books that have plenty of other finger plays, tongue twisters and songs for children.

A collection of finger plays and action songs perfect for any early childhood classroom.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

And YouTube is a hub of inspiration. Go Noodle is a fun channel to get everyone moving while learning and we love this clips too -

Tooty Ta Song - a fun layered silly song to follow along to.

One Finger, One Thumb - very fast version but The Wiggles pull it off. Warning though - this song will get stuck in your head.

Wombat Wobble would have to be my favourite (the video's not great quality but at least you can see the movements and how much fun the children are having).

My Name is Joe - another layered song where children have to add a movement each repeat.

Highway Number One - This clip, which must be someone's university class, is hilarious! With preschoolers, we start as a circle, start your car and walk around clockwise or anti-clockwise then stop at each city and complete the action before moving on.

Wash Your Face in Orange Juice - classic silliness from Peter Combe.

The Alphabet Song.  Kids love the Storybots!  They also do some fun clips for each letter of the alphabet along with favourite nursery rhymes.  

Usher's ABC song from Sesame Street is one everyone can get up and move to. It's definitely one of my favourites way to spend group time.

Days of the Week - maybe it's because I watched the Addams Family as a child but I love this version of how to learn the days of the week.

The Skeleton Dance

Of course you could use these songs any time of the year.  They're the perfect way to ensure that everyone is up and moving!

Other posts you might find useful for creating a successful circle time:

Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds Action Songs or 
Creating Circle Time

Tips for Circle Time from Teach Preschool

Pre-K's Circle Time suggestions

What are your favourite rhymes or songs for circle time?

How to Incorporate Finger Plays at Preschool and Why - the educational benefits to including finger plays in your pre-k program along with a collection of finger plays and action songs perfect for any early childhood classroom | you clever monkey